Tuesday, September 15, 2009


There’s cause for celebration: my HR team created small history by winning the very first labour case our Company has ever been part of. And what made it sweeter was we were the defence.

The other thing that’s “special” about this case was the fact that we successfully put up the defence of domestic inquiry, sans domestic inquiry notes. One of my staff chucked away the domestic inquiry notes prior to the case being heard in court. The Labour Court is well known for its emphasis on technicalities, and realising our weakness, we took a risk of submitting “alternative” evidence and pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

A few friends have asked me to share our “gambit”. After some thought, I think it is best that we don’t. The strategy may not work with everybody and in every situation. Your best tactical defence depends on your opponent’s level of resistance.

But what I do want to share with you today is what we actually did before and during the trial. Remember, labour and IR hearings are nothing like civil suits. For labour cases, you do have to sweat the small stuff.

  • Never underestimate your opponent. Don’t be cocky. Prepare for all your cases thoroughly no matter how straightforward you think they are and how stupid you think the other side looks. People can defeat you in two ways: either they are one-up on you on facts (or law as the case may be), or they optimise their findings of your loopholes, which, if you are over-confident, you will be bound to overlook, and which, if they hate you, they will leave no stone unturned to seek.

  • Never underestimate the power of the Labour Officer. They are well-trained and they do this everyday for the entirety of their working lives for goodness's sake – they are the connoisseurs of labour disputes. And yes, reality check, they do lean towards the employee’s case. And yes, reality double check, the labour system in this country is dogmatic. So make sure you know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, seek the advice of those who do.

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. Rehearse. Abraham Lincoln said if he had three days to chop down a tree, he’d spend two of those sharpening his axe. Start preparing from Day One that you got the summons. Anticipate your opponent’s line of questioning and draft out yours. Have a checklist for your bundle of documents. Prepare a spare bundle of CTC documents in case you lose the originals. Prep your witnesses well in advance, do a moot court if you have to. Give them specific instructions on body language and facial expressions and vocal tone. Even if you don’t want to prepare a written submission, use cue cards to jot notes down. No matter how many times you’ve done this, it pays to be organised. 

  • Learn up your cases, especially newer ones. Don’t just cite Milan Auto to death. Do a bit of Googling and pull out recent award decisions. Not only will these recent cases fortify your case, citing them will impress the Labour Officer/Court Chairman. And that, I can tell you, will do wonders for your case.

  • Chill, dudes/dudettes. Let the pressure inspire you. In our case, there were many instances during my examination, testimony and submission which I ad-libbed my arguments. Some arguments I formulated in my head after listening to the other side’s testimony. Some I literally uttered as soon as the thought entered my head. Sometimes such "inspired" arguments can really seal the deal. If they do, you will hear them being mentioned in the verdict later. This requires some practice though. So do it only if you’re confident. Or if you were a salesman before.

The rest? Well…that’s our secret. :)